Creative Destruction Part 04: A Curious Stepchild of Inbound Marketing
Walk through the lobby of most buildings today and invariably you will pass a large media wall of some kind. Flowing across these screens in high-key colors are looping marketing messages or media art, likely inspired by a C-level executive who exhorts the design team to replicate one they saw elsewhere.
These experiential digital branding environments are like the curious stepchildren of inbound marketing and audience engagement—not well connected to marketing or content strategies. Though marketing and messaging are one of their primary functions, thinking of them as only messaging or art overlooks their full potential as a valuable communication interface between an organization’s offerings and their audience and visitors.
These media walls are an under-leveraged asset, as they exist in the gap between marketing, facilities, and branding. However, if developed as an integrated touch point and element of inbound marketing, media walls could be a significant and exciting extension of a brand or organization.
Typically, these environments have an arrangement of video wall hardware components like interactive displays, LED screens or a single large-scale flat screen, and feature primarily marketing, advertising and messaging content or—in the case of museums—looping videos.
Designers can extend the usefulness of these systems through the use of interactivity with ambient sensors, gesture interfaces, hand-held devices and forms of virtual reality. These memorable experiences take both temporary and permanent forms, from large-scale trade show displays to building lobbies, visitor centers, retail, transportation hubs, cultural centers and other public spaces. In this post, we will focus on permanent interior displays.
Another element often missing from the public-facing experience of these media environments are personal connections that are meaningful, valuable, and actionable. The content that most of these environments offer tend to be one-way pitches or marketing messages with moving images and words, which garner only passing glances from viewers. While it is necessary to grab people’s attention, in this participatory world of engagement it is more valuable to hold it.
According to a study by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information and the National Library of Medicine, because of the effect of smartphones, the human attention span is currently a second less than that of a goldfish. While I do not suggest marketing to fish, what’s interesting about the data is that once you have people’s attention, you can hold it.
The keys to connecting with audiences are immersion and relevancy. Immersive content that relates to people’s emotions—is relevant to their personal narratives, needs and interests—will engage them by capturing their attention. State-of-the-art technology and sociological trends urge the use of “immersion” to keep in step with evolving audience expectations and technological capabilities. VR is one way to do this, but is not practical in a high traffic space or if there are requirements for real-life social interaction.
Immersion is a powerful experience of losing oneself in a narrative, while engagement occurs when a narrative or messaging inspires action. Today’s concept of audience engagement is reliant on two-way participation; creating awareness of a theme or content topic is just the first step in audience engagement. Accountable action can tie people’s behaviors to the content in a meaningful way, deepening the experience.
To get the best use of these immersive environments, think of them as a node in a holistic brand communication platform that could include digital wayfinding and web-based applications, and large-scale displays with social media, live data and content feeds.
As expressions of a brand, or in the case of a cultural center or an interpretive program, these immersive environments can be effective touch points for engagement, while displaying and gathering content and data. Instead of a brand or entity pushing one-way messaging, these alternatives offer the ability to receive valuable data that could lead to enduring two-way relationships with audiences.
Digital branded environment projects are most successful when the media consultant is brought into the design phase early (alongside architects, exhibition designers and marketers) and with significant time allocated for content strategy and planning.
Too many owners and designers underestimate the enormous amount of content needed and the rate of change required to keep environmental displays fresh and engaging for audiences beyond day one. Depending on the nature of the organization and its access to resources, there are several ways to keep the content fresh and the system up-to-date, so that audiences stay engaged. If using internal resources, a smart content strategy of different live feeds with original and stored content works well. Keys to the success of this approach are high-production-value templates and dedicated internal staff. Another option is outsourcing the content management and AV system hardware with a service contract, as long as there is the appropriate oversight in place to assure the messaging is consistent.
Keeping content fresh requires evergreen systems and design, asset allocation and proper scheduling. These measures ensure that the various audience needs are addressed at the right times of the day. High-production-value templates are also critical, as well as a mixture of content types.
As media and technology become increasing elements in interior and architectural design, exhibition, and branding, we will see more of these digitally branded and experiential environments. Increasingly, there are many exciting and different variations and explorations of what these environments can do. They are vehicles with enormous capacities—much of them, as yet, untapped. With the right strategy, design, and planning, they could reach full potential as an asset.
Further Reading and Sources:
Creative Destruction Series: Introduction
Creative Destruction Series Part 01: Palpitations on the Slopes of Technology
Creative Destruction Series Part 02: Designing for Plurals, the Evolving Audience
Creative Destruction Series Part 03: Relocating Humanity